1.  Can you tell us about your career path after graduating from IIM C

I joined HCL right after college in 1987 where I performed a variety of roles.
I was transferred to HCL America in 1991 and in 1993 was asked to open their office in New York. Worked there for three years
where we grew the business from scratch before being tapped to head operations at a joint venture that I had helped identify - HCL James Martin.

Started Skansoft in 1997 and co-founded TechSpan in 1998, with funding from Goldman Sachs and Walden. Merged with Headstrong, a company twice our size in 2004.Became President & COO in 2007 and CEO in Jan, 2010

2.  As a founder of two IT firms, what has been your motivation to take the path less trod?

(1)  Unrelenting belief in a mega-trend that is unfolding
a.    The internet is going to completely transform our lives. In particular, the availability of near infinite bandwidth, razor thin displays and the growth of communications will transform how we live and work. The IT and KPO industries are just the beginning.
(2)  Desire to create a leader in an industry
a.    It’s not exciting to be a “me too”
b.    The burning desire to create a leading institution that everyone in the company can be proud of keeps me going.

3.  Can you please share with us some of the challenges that you have faced as an entrepreneur and as a CEO?

(1)  You have many constituents that you cater too – customers, employees, shareholders and the Board – and one is simply not more important that the others - their expectations and needs are often in conflict with one another. You have to manage that.
a.    Don’t take the easy way out and tweak your message for each audience
b.    Be true to your vision, strategy and execution plan – be transparent about it and lay out the wins and risks for each category – but as CEO you have to think about all of these constituencies.

(2)  Taking tough decisions about personnel
a.    As companies grow, the skills that have brought you so far may not serve you well at the next stage of the company’s growth
b.    It’s hard to make tough decisions about people who helped grow the company in its infancy
c.     It’s hard to implement many of the changes
i.     Use hard milestones and data based goal setting to get emotions out of the equation
ii.    Transparent measurement makes it easier for everyone involved

(3)  Integration of different cultures and business models after acquisitions
a.    Here again, I think the trick is to create a solid business model for the merged company based on detailed conversations with employees, customers and vendors
b.    Create your new business model and communicate it effectively and incessantly
i.     Be transparent - people are smart – if it is a story, they will
figure it out
ii.    Just be true

(4)  Embrace change but not for the sake of change
a.    If it is running well, fix and change with care
b.    Intellectual elegance is not a good enough reason for organizational change.

 4.  What advice do you have for someone looking to follow your example?

(1)  Create a compelling vision for what you want to do
a.    Be ruthless in your analysis about the value you hope to bring
b.    Ask the question “If your competitors were all pitching, would you buy your offering”
c.     There will be holes – focus on creating true differentiators
d.    We have a term for it in Headstrong – leaders have to be infectiously passionate about the company
(2)  Build an outstanding team
a.    The business environment changes
b.    It is the team that makes the difference

(3)  There is no long term without the short term
a.    Focus on cash

(4)  Focus on execution
a.    External focused vs internal
b.    Intense focus on the customer’s needs
(5)  Build a transparent meritocracy
a.    Without data, you will be guessing – so will everyone else

5.  What memories of IIMC do you carry with you?

(1)  The lake, of course
(2)  Rarely have I met so many smart people in one setting
(3)  The first accounting test where half the class got zero (and that too because negative scores were rounded off to zero) – helped bring everyone down to earth

(4)  The biryani in the White House

Sandeep Sahai

President & CEO, Headstrong, Inc.

IIM Americas